Cholesterol is a naturally-occurring, fat-like, waxy substance which is mainly produced by the body’s liver and is found in animal fats, dairy products and fish. A normal diet should always contain recommended amounts of cholesterol. By age 20, it is recommended that cholesterol levels should be checked every 5 years.
Doctors recommend that ideal cholesterol levels should be less than 200.
Cholesterol at low levels are needed by the body. Cholesterol has many functions which are essential for normal body functioning. It is also a major component in cells and functions to maintain cell health. Cholesterol is a major precursor for molecules responsible in biosynthesis. These molecules in turn are responsible for the production of bile acids, steroid hormones and fat soluble vitamins.
Cholesterol: Good and Bad
Not all cholesterols are bad for your body. Cholesterol comes in two major forms, low density lipoproteins (LDL), and high density lipoproteins (HDL).
Bad Cholesterol (LDL)
Low density lipoproteins or LDL is also termed as “bad” cholesterol. When there are high levels of LDL in the blood, they build up in the walls of arteries which affect normal blood circulation in the body. Cholesterol sticks to the linings of blood vessels, and in time, forms hard deposits known as plaques. This not only lessens the surface area for blood circulation but hardens the arteries. This continuous build-up of plaque causes atherosclerosis, a dangerous medical condition.
Good Cholesterol (HDL)
Twenty five to thirty percent of all blood cholesterol is carried by high density lipoproteins. HDL is coined as “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol away from blood vessels. Unlike LDL, high levels of HDL are ideal in maintaining good levels of cholesterol in the body.
Omega 3 is an essential fatty acid found in fish and some plants. A diet composed mainly of fish could provide good amounts of Omega 3. Health benefits include lower levels of bad cholesterol (LDL), lower blood pressures and reduced risks of heart disease.
Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL)
Another type of cholesterol is called Very Low Density Lipoproteins (VLDL). VLDL is a type of cholesterol which helps distribute triglycerides in the bloodstream. This is also called “bad” cholesterol because portions of this converts into LDL which eventually clogs blood vessels.
Sources of Cholesterol
Cholesterol in the body comes from two major sources. The first source of cholesterol is through our diet. 25 percent of all blood cholesterol is supplied by a person’s diet. Animal fats are one of the biggest sources of cholesterol. Eggs, dairy products and fish meat are also rich in cholesterol. Egg yolk contains good amounts of cholesterol and should be avoided. However, not all types of dairy products such as milk contain high levels of cholesterol; skim milk is a good alternative as it contains lower levels of fat.
The body produces cholesterol mainly through the liver (about 1,000 milligrams a day). Cells lining the small intestines also produce minute amounts of cholesterol. Seventy-five percent of all cholesterol found in your blood is produced by your body.
Factors Affecting Cholesterol Levels:
- Diet. High levels of fat and cholesterol are found in animal meat, dairy products and eggs. Reducing intake of these food products directly affects the level of blood cholesterol. Replacing meat products with fish; and whole milk with skim milk is a great way of reducing cholesterol and fat intake without sacrificing taste.
- Obesity. Persons found to be overweight have increased chances of developing cardiovascular diseases. This also leads to higher levels of cholesterol in the blood.
- Sedentary lifestyle. Modern living has certainly made life easy. Exercise is great in lowering LDL levels in the body, and it helps HDL to eliminate high levels of bad cholesterol in the body.
- Age and gender. As people grow older, their bodies are not able to metabolize cholesterol as efficiently as when they were younger. Gender plays a part too; females who have undergone menopause are found to have higher levels of blood cholesterol.
- Diabetes. Persons suffering from medical conditions like diabetes have higher levels of blood cholesterol. With proper management normal blood cholesterol can be maintained.
- Heredity. Family history of heart diseases may increase your risk of having high cholesterol levels. Genes determine how much cholesterol your body produces and this leads to increased levels.
- Medications. Certain medications such as steroids can increase levels of blood cholesterol. It is important that people consult with their doctors as to the side effects of their medication.
Simple steps for lowering cholesterol levels
- Therapeutic Lifestyle Diet (TLC). The TLC diet was developed as a guideline for people suffering from high levels of cholesterol and risks of heart disease. The American Heart Association (AHA) has recommended this diet as a non-medical treatment for people suffering from high levels of cholesterol.
- Exercise. A healthy diet together with exercise improves long-term goals of maintaining ideal cholesterol levels in the body. Exercise also lowers levels of triglycerides which reduces heart risks.
- Weight management. Maintaining your ideal weight can reduce levels of LDL’s. It is recommended for people with large waist measurements (more than 40 inches for men and more than 35 inches for women).
- Drug treatment. Your doctor can prescribe drugs which may help you lower blood cholesterol levels. Simple drug treatments, however, will be more effective if combined with lifestyle changes.
Understanding these simple facts about cholesterol can help you avoid health risks associated with high cholesterol levels. Lifestyle changes such as proper dieting, maintaining an active lifestyle and a regular checkup with your doctor can prevent high levels of bad cholesterol. Managing and treating high cholesterol levels are not difficult. Discipline is still the key if a patient is to overcome high cholesterol levels. However, prevention and a better understanding on how diseases develop is still the best defense against developing any medical condition and problems with Cholesterol. “Too much of a good thing is bad,” this age-old saying is true, and having high levels of cholesterol in your body is certainly bad for your health. Cardiovascular diseases are one of the top causes of deaths in the United States today. Heart disease is often associated with having unhealthy lifestyles. Maintaining a proper diet and regular exercise can go a long way in preventing any future problems with your cholesterol levels.
written by Ronald Uy, RN
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